First a disclaimer:
Although I worked in the finishing trade for 27 years I've now been out of it for nearly as long as I was in it. Which is probably why I'm still alive.
It's important to understand that my information may be 'expert' but may also be out of date.
So bearing that in mind, I would certainly not recommend powder for a good quality steel frame for three reasons.
As you suggest it will tend to be too thick and hide any attractive features in the metalwork. It's possible techniques have improved now and coaters can achieve a less 'puddingy' look.
There is a tendency to consider powder to be a one coat finish (see pink frame above).
It's difficult or impossible to shot blast powder - it gets hot and melts but doesn't come off. Chemical stripping may work, but M_V is very probably correct in saying that suitably potent strippers are no longer available. This was already starting to be a problem twenty years ago.
A further point is that if you want your frame to look 'new' as it might have done in the golden age of artisan frame building,the classic look was achieved by at least two coats of stoved paint, then application of transfers (decals) then a coat of stoving lacquer.
Keep in mind also that not all powder coating uses the same material. Epoxy powder will 'chalk' if exposed to much sunlight. Polyester is less prone to this problem, but it's more expensive. The cost of the powder for a bike frame is trivial, but it's a question of what powder your coater happens to be using if he can put your frame in with some other job (and that's what he'd like to do).
Yes, you're right, it is confusing. It was easier when no one was worried about pollution or the welfare of the workers, but now that we export all the bad stuff to the far east (where no one seems to care) it makes it hard to get a decent job done here.
So say I have an old frame with a bit of rust poking through, and I really like said frame and want to preserve, ride and enjoy it for a long time.
Who should I take it to for a pro job?
From what I understand the current paint needs to be stripped along with the rust (shot blasting?), undercoat/treatment applied and then a good quality paint job.
Looking for someone who will help to guide me in the right direction!
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